Monday, September 1, 2014

Signe Baumane's ROCKS IN MY POCKETS: dark tales animated with colorful, ironic joie de vivre

A rather bizarre surprise, given its subject and themes -- women, education, suicide, depression, insanity and possible coping mechanisms -- ROCKS IN MY POCKET, the new animated film (her first full-length) from award-winning filmmaker Signe Baumane, proves a genuinely interesting and different kind of animated movie. This one is very time-and place-specific: Latvia in the early and later part of the century past. It is also a movie that is almost completely narrated by its protagonist: a young woman trying to ferret out her own identity and place in the world, even as she investigates the history and place of her grandmother in that same, stifling, what-will-the-neighbors-say? culture in which she has come of age.

Ms Baumane (shown at left) uses, I believe, her own heavily-accented Latvian voice to narrate her movie, and it is quite a winning one, bringing a sometimes wicked sense of humor, tartness and irony to the sound track. That voice is also sheerly enjoyable to hear, making what could be a rather heavy-going narration more of a pleasure than you might expect, had a typically American voice narrated the proceedings.

The animation, too, while made of fairly simple line drawings in various media, is so colorfully shaded and vividly imagined -- characters morphing into animal versions of themselves, a chicken wearing high heels -- that much of it gives extraordinary viewing pleasure.

The movie concentrates most on Signe herself (above, right), though it gives ample time to her grandmother (below, left) and to a number of other characters, mostly female but occasionally male.

There's cousin Linda (below, as a would-be bridal bird), the smart, beautiful and successful girl who grows into an utterly crazy young woman,

along with little Irbe (below) who hears voices intent on giving her perhaps not the best advice.

Craziness does seem to run in this family, and Baumane tracks it as best she can. She comes down hard on a society that favors conformism, laziness, the male prerogative, and the politically correct attitude -- which of course changes as one country after another conquers little Latvia.

The movie is "adult" in the best sense -- not overly sexual, though desire and need do figure in -- and more about sheer survival and making progress in a society in which women were supposed to be male "help-meets" and baby producers above all else.

If the lessons our heroine finally learns turn out to be less than profound -- friendship is a fine outlet by which to share life's pain; follow your dream and do what you most need to; take your drugs to help stave off their highs and lows of the bi-polar personality -- at least our girl seems to have come by these lessons honestly and via some hard work. Plus, the animation gives us all this in a most fertile and imaginative manner.

Rocks in My Pockets -- the title refers to what you'll need if you plan to drown yourself properly -- from Zeitgeist Films and running 89 minutes, opens this Wednesday, September 3, here in New York City at the IFC Center, and the following Friday, September 12, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal theater. To view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, simply click here.

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